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  • Writer's picturePaul


Who doesn’t like silent films, eh? Apart from, you know, practically everyone born since 1930. But apart from them, everyone knows silent films are great.

But according to the brilliantly-named American inventor Charles Pidgin, you know what totally ruins silent films? The intertitles—that’s those pesky frames of dialogue or explanatory text that crop on screen up every few seconds to, y’know, tell you what’s going on.

What a day Minta was having:

An intertitle from Hitchcock’s ‘Farmer’s Wife’ (1928) (Hitchcock Zone)

Mr Pidgin might have been on to a losing battle with his hatred of intertitles, because without them no one would have had a goddamn clue what was going on. But in 1917, he came up with a frankly brilliant invention that would consign the intertitle onto the scrap heap of movie history.

Pidgin’s invention was inflatable speech bubbles, onto which the actors would write their lines. These could then be held up against the actors’ mouths, and hey presto—like some kind of life-size cartoon strip, the audience would know what was going on.

Not content with that, Pidgin suggested that the balloons on which the speech was written could be inflated as they spoke, giving the illusion that the words were “appearing to come from the mouths of the players”. And the larger the balloon, or the larger the text, the louder, angrier, or otherwise more expressive the line would appear.

Sadly, Mr Pidgin’s novel idea never caught on—and when the “talkies” consigned the silent film itself to the scrap heap of movie history, the idea became wholly obsolete.

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